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ISI frontman pleads guilty, but will US act against ISI?

December 8, 2011 - Washington

The US dossier against Pakistan's spy agency is growing and the latest "whistle blower" is Ghulam Nabi Fai, a Kashmiri frontman who pleaded guilty to receiving millions of dollars from the ISI to influence American politicians.

With barely a supporter or two present in the Virginia courtroom on a rainy Wednesday, Fai admitted that he had funneled 3.5 million dollars from the ISI since the 1990s through straw donors. The purpose was to lobby the US Congress on the issue of Kashmir by donating around 100,000 dollars a year to various members, organize conferences and hold receptions for decision-makers.

Now it can be safely said that for all the fuss his Kashmiri American Council made about supporting an "independent" Kashmir in principle, in reality he was propagating the ISI's line. US prosecutor Neil MacBride called him "a paid operative of ISI" in his statement.

For those who always suspected Fai's agenda, the court room drama was not a surprise. The larger question for them is what happens next in the game of US vs. Pakistan.

Will there be any real repercussions for Pakistan's intelligence agency and will those named by Fai face any consequences? Would the US Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Justice Department use the "dossier" and demand action against the real culprits.

Fai is the second significant asset lost by the ISI to the FBI after David Coleman Headley who played a central role in planning the 2008 Mumbai attacks.

While Headley was arrested in Chicago before he could carry out a terrorist attack in Europe, Fai was under the scanner for several years and given warnings in the past.

Both men made a plea bargain, spilling the beans to US interrogators in exchange for lesser sentences. Fai reportedly felt "abandoned" by the ISI because it had left him out to dry. A small crowd of Pakistani Americans had come to the court in support on his first appearance but today there were only men.

Fai faces a maximum of eight years in prison on two counts - one of conspiracy and another of tax evasion-but in reality he may get away with a couple of years, analysts say. Sentencing is scheduled for March 9 next year until which time he will be under house arrest as he has been since June.

"Fai's plea bargain wouldn't have been possible without more details on his handlers," said one observer in Washington.

It is clear that through Fai the FBI has accumulated real information on names, phone numbers, locations and strategy of Pakistan's notorious spy masters after months of interrogating. Presumably the FBI over time has also arrived at conclusions about the ISI's deadly hand in Mumbai.

But as with Headley, the information collected from Fai may not lead to any fireworks or US officials actually taking any action against the ISI officers named. Conventional wisdom in Washington says that in the end it is a political decision and given the already tattered state of US-Pakistan relations, it may not be wise to further humiliate a raging establishment.

The NATO air attack last month which killed 24 Pakistani soldiers on the border with Afghanistan has caused a huge rift between the allies.

Interestingly, the US government dropped the main charge against Fai - that of conspiring to act as an unregistered foreign agent as part of the plea bargain. Nina Ginsberg, Fai's lawyer, claimed that while he admits accepting millions of dollars from Pakistan, his lobbying efforts were his own. He was not really following ISI orders on substance.

This flies in the face of the evidence the prosecutor himself placed in court, including Fai's e-mails to ISI men. Strategy plans were routinely submitted to Javeed Aziz Khan, also known as Brigadier Abdullah Khan, who pulled up Fai if he strayed from the path without ISI approval.

The spies approved Fai's budget annually and even quarreled over details, according to the US Justice Department. In 2009, Fai duly sent the ISI his "Plan of Action of KAC/Kashmir Center" for the "Fiscal Year 2010" replete with itemized requests for $658,000.

Once again, the ISI's dangerous games and continued immunity from prosecution for one reason or another hurts India more. Fai's Kashmir shop cost thousands of diplomatic hours of work for the Indian Embassy in terms of countering the propaganda. Fai-fed Congressmen were always trying to sneak anti-India measures in US legislation by the back door which required a high level of vigilance.

Attn: News Editors/News Desks: The views expressed in the above article are that of Ms.Seema Sirohi, a columnist based in Washington D.C.


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